Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Theater Review Having Our Say -- Long Wharf/Hartford Stage

Olivia Cole and Brenda Pressley. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
These Sisters Have a Lot of Insightful Things to Say
By Lauren Yarger
I just finished pulling up a chair, enjoying a cup of tea and learning from two delightful sisters what life was like over the past 100 years. It sure felt like that’s what I did watching the superb staging of Emily Mann’s play Having Our Say at Hartford Stage.

The production, directed by Jade King Carroll, was presented earlier in the season at Long Wharf Theatre, and lets two centenarians, Bessie Delany (Brenda Pressley) and Sadie Delany (Olivia Cole) have their say about growing up the daughters of a former slave, living through the Jim Crow laws in North Carolina, the Civil Rights movement and just about anything else they want.

The two women were real. Mann adapted their 1993 autobiography “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” with Amy Hill Hearth and the show was nominated for a number of Tony Awards when it premiered on Broadway in 1995 (Baikida Carroll’s original music is used here).

The sisters are a close as can be, even if they are very different in personality. Bessie, a pioneering woman who became a dentist, is hot-tempered, quick to speak and will let you know exactly what she thinks about the unfair and racist treatment she has received over the years, especially from Rebbies – racist white males.

“The darker you are, the harder it is,” she tells us.
Her bluntness is balanced by former schoolteacher Sadie’s patient and forgiving spirit. One thing they share in common is an appreciative and abiding love for their parents. Their father, a teacher, became the first African-American bishop in the Episcopal Church and their mother, a college-educated woman, worked outside the home while raising their 10 children.

They realize now that they had a privileged life growing up compared to most African Americans. They invite us in to their Mount Vernon Home (meticulously created by Alexis Distler with projections of photos enhancing the storytelling), cook up some delicious-smelling food to celebrate what would have been their father’s birthday (the audience complained of hunger at each of the two intermissions taken in this two-hour, 15 minute play) and reflect on their lives. It’s a combination of history, personal insight and humor that make for a satisfying look at the triumph of human spirit.

Both actresses give compelling performances, portraying women much older than themselves, of course. We see the stiffness in getting around, the tension between them when there is conflict, the deep love and affection of each for the person who has loved and known them the longest on earth.

Some wonderful moments and insight:

·         A heartfelt rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Bessie.
·         Loving their country even if it didn’t always love them back.
·         The secret of their longevity: never having husbands to worry them to death.

We feel as though we also have known these wonderful women for a long time and we want nothing more than to pull up a chair in their comfortable living room and say, “Please tell me what you have to say about. . .”

Having Our Say runs through April 24 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.  Tickets are $25-$85: 860-527-5151; www.hartfordstage.org.

Additional credits: Costume Design by Karen Perry, Wig Design by Carol “Cici” Campbell, Lighting Design by Nicole Pearce; Sound Design by Karin Graybash, Production Design by Paul Piekarz.


AfterWords Discussion
April 12, 13, 19 -- Join members of the cast and artistic staff for a free discussion, immediately following select 7:30 pm performances on Tuesday or 2 pm Wednesday matinees. FREE

Open Captioned Performances -- 
April 17, 2 and 7:30 for patrons who are deaf or have hearing loss. FREE with admission.

Audio Described Performance April 23 at 2 pm for patrons who are blind or have low vision. FREE with admission.


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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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